Kitchen savings.

No matter what part of the world we are living in, prices of everything are going up. From essentials to what we could classify as wants, many of us are looking for ways to reduce costs and adapt to the rising food prices.

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Here are a few ways we are trying to adapt to this, and still maintain healthy and tasty meals at home:-

  1. Reducing store bought snacks. Things such as popcorn are much cheaper and easier to make at home than buying store bought packs. Baked or air fried crisps using our traditional starchy vegetables such as arrowroot, green bananas (matooke), and sweet potato taste just as good.
  2. Making juice at home- you get to choose what you can put in it. No sweeteners, stabilisers, fake colours and preservatives that may not be that good for you.
  3. Reducing on deep fried foods. Cooking oil prices are absurd in Kenya and Uganda at the moment. So as much as I love my deep fried treats such as mandazi and chips (French fries), I am not making them as often as I did.
  4. Planning for shopping. Having a list is important and sticking to it will save coins. We prefer doing our shopping once a month for stuff such as dry provisions, toiletries and the like. Fruits and fresh vegetable runs can be done biweekly or weekly.
  5. Frequent grocery runs will have you spending more, so reduce on those by avoiding to go to the store often. Also remember to shop on a full stomach so you do not get tempted to load on junk food.
  6. On the same shopping note, planning meals and snacks around what is in season in terms of fruits and vegetables makes economical sense. Use what is available and more affordable than stretching your budget to accommodate what is pricier.
  7. Compare prices across stores when you can. If detergent is cheaper at a store that may be on a side of town I do not frequent, I can pick up some when I happen to be on that side of town.
  8. Where we live has an interesting dynamic, you had rather walk than drive to the grocery these sides. Also, buying at the green grocer who is a bit further off road and smaller is cheaper than the one who is at the forefront or right on the road side. Most markets are like that back home too so, always head a bit further in.
  9. Using a water purifier instead of water dispenser. Instead of buying drinking water weekly, or boiling water, having a purifier has saved us a heap this past two months. We use this brand that is easy to install, maintain and the water has such a fresh clean taste and cool too.
  10. Eating less meat. Yes I know it doesn’t seem like it makes a difference but it does. Contrary to what many believe, meatless meals can be tasty, colourful, filling and fun to have with your family. I have many meatless recipes up on the blog that are worth a try. From stews to curries to roasted vegetables, they are all delicious. No meat or eating less meat does not mean you stick to just beans, there are many lentils and types of cereals in the market that are not hard to make. Searching for recipes on the internet is so easy to learn how to make what you have never tried before. Experiment a bit more.
  11. Buffering meals with minced vegetables or lentils stretches the meal further and adds more nutrients, so it is a win for all. This works well for casseroles, soups and pies.
  12. “There is rice at home”. I think every African child knows what this statement means. Eat at home as much as you can, it is easier on the pocket.
  13. Are breakfast cereals a must in your house? Breakfast doesn’t necessarily mean loading your kids with sugar filled store bought cereals in the morning. You can discuss with the kids if old enough what options are available that they wouldn’t mind to have in the morning. I make millet or banana porridge sometimes, oatmeal, soup, cocoa or leftovers from the previous night’s dinner can be warmed up or revamped.
  14. If you can, make your own stocks, soups and even seasoning mixes. Once you clean your vegetables and chop, save the usable scrapings, such as the stalks and leftover bits and pieces in a ziplock and freeze. once they are a sizeable portion, make a tasty vegetable stock with them. Same applies for bones and chicken carcasses, instead of throwing out the wing tips and back bone, or fatty bits and bones of your beef, you you can use them to make your own chicken or beef stock. Leftover cooked meat can be reused in soups, salads, stir fries and sandwiches.
  15. By buying my spices whole, I get to grind and blend up my own seasoning as I please. Pilau masala, curry mixes and tea masalas all use ginger, cardamon, cinnamon and black pepper among others in varying quantities. Making my own also ensures their purity and potency. Some commercial brands have been known to add rice flour to boost volume which makes spices less potent. Check out my post here on my preferred spices. I will also do a post soon on how I make my various spice blends.
  16. Trying other less costly brands – this had not been easy for me as I am the type of girl marketers love. LOL. I am a sucker for ads and loyal to brands that have served me well over the years or have great ad jingles. Hahaha. I am however trying, key word trying, to use other brands that cost less than my favourite ones, and get the job done just as well, stuff such as bathroom and Toilet cleaner, glass/window cleaners, bleach etc. Also using vinegar and baking soda has helped in reducing use of commercial brands in our house. Distilled vinegar can be used to clean windows, and most surfaces (diluted please), freshen up laundry and many more uses. Baking soda for the oven, faucets and sinks etc.
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By no means should you compromise on quality and safety of what you use, whether to cook or clean, so adapt slowly and researching on substitutes that are friendly to both the family and the environment.

On the same saving note, it is important to teach our children to save and be more economical with what they have. Keep them informed on changes in economies in a way they can understand. For many of us money was a taboo topic while growing up and let us be honest, it has affected (mostly negatively), how we make our financial decisions as adults. Let us do better by our young ones.

There is of course that thin line between being wise / frugal and scarcity mentality. We need to be intentional that we do not cross that line when sharing how to be prudent about not only money but other material things too.

This is not an exhaustive list, just some of the things we are doing to try to maintain our household costs.

What are some of the ways you are coping with the rising food prices and cost of living in general?

Let us share and learn from each other.

My Pantry Essentials.

This post is a continuation of my “House Matters” series. My previous post in this category was on my kitchen essentials which you can find here.

A pantry could be a room or a cupboard where one stores all their essential food and household items. Not all homes have a room in the kitchen that qualifies as a pantry, also called the kitchen store in some places. In smaller houses or apartments, you have to be creative, so you could either have a pullout pantry or use your cupboards, counter tops, shelves or bins to store your food items.

A simple but elegant pantry space.
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Growing up, my parents used to prefer doing monthly shopping. They would have their list and buy supplies to last us a month or two. Having space to garden also helped save a lot on groceries. We had cows and chickens, so no buying milk and eggs. We grew our own onions, tomatoes, potatoes, maize, beans, leafy greens, some herbs and had banana, avocado, mango, passion fruit and loquat trees. There was minimal food waste as leftovers could be used to feed the pigs, vegetable scraps would make compost and food scraps for the chickens. I miss those days!

We may not garden as much and keep livestock at the moment, but we have kept up with some of the habits I learnt when younger. We have retained the monthly shopping habit over the years for one; I find things last longer that way, we get to save on discounts such as if you buy more than one set of an item, and take advantage of what’s on sale. I also don’t like frequent supermarket runs, so shopping at a go is great for me. Weekly grocery runs are to stock up on perishables such as milk, fruits and vegetables.

This is not a conclusive list, it is just how I do it. Being well stocked makes it easier to plan meals in advance, including kids snacks, lunches and main meals. And there is nothing wrong with being organised, right?

In no particular order, here we go:-

  1. Oils– I mainly cook with sunflower oil and coconut oil. I also keep a bottle of extra virgin olive oil for salad dressings and a small bottle of sesame oil for marinades or simple sautés.
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2. Butters– I use unsalted butter as it is easier to use in a variety of dishes.

Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

3. Ghee– I sometimes use ghee to make my chapatis, for making a rich curry, for rice or dessert.

4. Cheese – I’ve already done posts on the cheese we prefer here. Goat cheese has an intense flavour that works well in pizzas and salads. Cheddar is handy for scrambled eggs, in a savoury loaf, and mozzarella for pizza. But my personal favourites are the goat cheese varieties from Kyaninga dairy and gouda cheese. I however prefer stocking one type at a time.

5. Vinegars– I love balsamic vinegar and add it to roasted vegetables or make a tasty drizzle with it that goes well with many dishes. Apple cider vinegar is handy to have for a tonic and other uses around the home, not just the kitchen. White vinegar is used for baking, cleaning fruits, vegetables and other non food uses, and red wine vinegar is great on salads.

Various types of vinegar.

6. Flours– This includes all purpose flour and self raising flour for baking and pancakes or mandazi. I like using atta (whole wheat flour) in chapatis mixed with besan flour.

One of my favorite flours.

Chick pea (besan) flour is also great in savoury pancakes like I made here, and as batter for packed potatoes here, or crispy matoke wedges or a gluten free apple cake. Rice flour is also present in my pantry. It is great in porridge, pancakes and for battered vegetables too. Kenyan maize meal flour is a must for making ugali, and can make pancakes too, like in this recipe.

For porridge flours, I stock pumpkin flour and millet flour as they are readily available here. I am yet to get sweet potato flour here which I liked mixing in my chapati back home but when I do, I will add it to my list. I also have cassava flour which I have only used so far used to make ugali and roti. Cornstarch also features in this category, although I do not use it much, it is handy to have for thickening sauces or in other dishes.

7. Canned goods- Tomato paste, baked beans in tomato sauce, coconut cream and milk, canned tuna are must haves in my pantry.

8. Condiments– Ketchup, mustard, Mayonnaise. With kids ketchup runs out pretty fast. Akabanga is a hot chilli (really hot) sauce from Rwanda that is in this category too.

9. Flavourings– Vanilla and almond extracts are my usual “go tos” when baking. Soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce are in this category too.

10. Rice and Pasta– As I have mentioned here before, I am a fan of long grained basmati rice as a little goes a very long way. Do not compromise on good quality rice if you make it a lot. For pasta I mix long and short varieties. The short cut pasta is great for salads and pasta bakes. Spaghetti is a kids’ favourite here so I always have a couple of packs on hand. In this category a box of couscous and pearl barley also come in handy.

Different kinds of pasta.
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11. Spices – To avoid having too many spices losing flavour, these days I prefer buying whole spices then grind them up depending on the blend I want, whether for pilau, spicy tea, biriani or a curry.

My must have whole spices are cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, black pepper, fennel seeds, black mustard seeds, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, fenugreek seeds, nutmeg, ginger and turmeric. I like doing this as I am able to experiment with the flavours and learn how the spices work well together. For store bought blends and ground spices, I buy paprika, Kenyan curry powder, garam masala, cayenne pepper and chilli flakes.

An array of various spices.
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Dried herbs– These come in handy when one cannot access fresh herbs, but be careful so the flavour doesn’t get too overpowering in your meal. In this category I stock dried fenugreek leaves, bay leaves, oregano, basil, sage, parsley and mint.

Beverages– Tea leaves, Kenyan of course, have to feature here. Drinking chocolate for the kids, cocoa for baking, coffee and chamomile tea are constants. Ugandan coffee is really good, I am not a heavy coffee drinker but really like it.

Spreads– Our main spreads are peanut butter, honey and jam which could be of any flavours. Nutella too as a treat.

Snacks– Potato crisps and plantain crisps feature here as well as popcorn. I like buying it raw and popping it the old fashioned way with the kids.

Sweeteners- Honey, sugar and icing sugar. I also keep blackstrap molasses for a tonic.

Salts- Just the usual table salt will do. I also like having some sea salt, Himalayan rock salt and black salt when available. The black salt lasts ages. I like it in roasted meats and vegetables.

Breakfast cereals- We love oats so they are always present in the cupboards. Stovetop or overnight, they are a weekday breakfast fixture here. I also keep Weetabix and Weetos for the kids.

Cereals/ legumes- I like having a variety of dried legumes, and keep changing them up. Chickpeas, brown lentils, kidney beans, pigeon peas, chana dal and butter beans are my mains in this category.

Different kinds of beans.
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Dried fruits, seeds and nuts– Chia seeds, sesame seeds, almonds, sultanas, desiccated coconut, groundnuts and cashew nuts feature here.

Powdered Foods : I use these as toppings for our breakfast cereals, smoothies or snacks. This include black seed powder, baobab powder and hibiscus powder. I recently bought some groundnut powder for matoke groundnut sauce. I am yet to try it on anything else though.

Miscellaneous– Baking soda, baking powder and yeast are in this category, as well as breadcrumbs, glucose, and custard powder. I also include coffee filters, vitamin and collagen supplements here as well as food colour and rose water which I use for biriani, baking and beauty purposes.

Packaging– This category features rubber bands, wax paper, greaseproof paper, Foil, cling film and ziplock bags, kitchen paper towels and serviettes.

Most of these items last us well over three months. The all purpose flours and cooking oil, snacks and breakfast cereals are what we usually stock up on monthly. For food items such as ginger, mint and turmeric, I stock up on both fresh and dried depending on use.

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Food pantry essentials depend on how often one cooks, how many people you cook for on average and also the kind of food you make. I make all our meals, including the children’s school lunches which determines how much of each item we need in a given period of time.

I also like cooking with different spices hence the long list of what I stock. It all depends on what you like, but my hope is to help somebody get organised on the basics.

What are your pantry essentials?

Let’s Talk Kitchens.

Random right?

It is one of my favourite rooms though; maybe cause it is where I do what I do best – eat and cook, but it is also funnily enough, one of the places I can gather my thoughts. Some people do so in the shower, or in the garden, or in the bedroom, but not me. Kitchen it is.

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Unpopular opinion- I also prefer open kitchens to closed.

Yeah, Yeah, I heard that collective gasp of dismay from Kenyans. This is always a thorny topic in building and construction groups. One out of ten posts will most probably be about how open kitchens are not African –as if. We really refuse to remember how a lot of the traditional cooking was done outside or if inside, all gathered at the hearth? Another disadvantage a lot of people give is how nobody wants to taste if the salt is enough in the food in front of the guests  read eat pieces of meat from the pot unseen. Or how y’all don’t want the aromas of the cooking food wafting through the house. Omena is that you?

I get it though.  Closed kitchens do have their advantages. Woe unto you if you live in a kitchen done in Kikuyu goth style, painted in what we call “landlord cream.”

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You really don’t want to subject your guests to the visual torture.

However I like the accessibility an open kitchen offers.  I get to interact with the kids as they do their homework, I can keep an eye on what they are watching or doing and can converse with friends comfortably as I prepare a meal.

The Kampala kitchen is closed though, and aged in terms of design but it makes up for that in loads of space. This kitchen is big enough to host a small party in, exercise in, have the kids play in and best of all dance in. ( I know I’m not the only one in the world who makes weekend pancakes as I do the electric shuffle to New Edition songs).

And during these Corona lockdown times, it has come in pretty handy as my staffroom cum office.

Of dream kitchens, I saw these photos of a kitchen in Australia and fell in love with it. Look at all that storage space, the size of the island, you can fit a whole person in those cabinets.

I like visiting different websites, show houses and showrooms just to see the varieties of kitchens available and also get updated ideas on how to get a kitchen design that suits my needs.  From the type and height of the cabinets, to the type of flooring and lighting, the colours and how the appliances will all fit in seamlessly, it is an endless list of things to be considered to have the perfect kitchen.

And maybe, ok not maybe, WHEN, I build my dream home, I will have a spice kitchen at the back; for the culture.